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Earnhardt fears ability to replace Letarte

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2014 at 12:55 pm •  Published: January 10, 2014
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is admittedly scared by the daunting task of replacing crew chief Steve Letarte.

He'll leave it up to team owner Rick Hendrick and management at Hendrick Motorsports, and they've got the entire season to find a new crew chief. Letarte was formally introduced Friday as the third and final member of NBC Sports Group's broadcast booth for its NASCAR coverage beginning in 2015.

Earnhardt and Letarte have been paired since 2011. Although the duo has just one win together, they've made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship the past three seasons.

More important, Letarte rebuilt the confidence in NASCAR's most popular driver and instilled a structure around Earnhardt that the driver admits raised his professionalism in the race car.

"The one thing that I fear is just trying to get a guy in there that's equally as talented," Earnhardt said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "Steve is a great cheerleader and definitely built up my confidence and changed me as a race car driver and as a person. Working with him has really helped me grow. I think that my fear is can we replace Steve?"

Earnhardt brought cousin Tony Eury Jr. with him to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. When that working relationship fractured, Hendrick replaced Eury with longtime company man Lance McGrew.

Only that combination failed to produce results, so Earnhardt was paired with former Jeff Gordon crew chief Letarte when Hendrick made a massive organizational shake-up shortly after the 2010 season ended.

Letarte's influence on Earnhardt was immediate, so Earnhardt will once again put his trust in Hendrick. He'll also want Letarte and Jimmie Johnson's six-time championship winning crew chief Chad Knaus to be part of the decision making. Knaus works side-by-side with Earnhardt's crew chief, so Earnhardt believes Knaus needs to have input.

"It was Rick and upper management that decided to put me with Steve," Earnhardt said. "I didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but I just wanted to trust their judgment, and that's what I'm going to do again.

"I would love to have input from Chad Knaus and Steve. I think that Steve knows what makes this team work. Steve knows how I can be successful and how the individuals within the team can be successful. It's important that Chad has got a lot of influence because he knows how well the shop works together and what the culture is in the shop and how a guy, a particular guy may mesh in that environment."

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